Please stand by ~

To Higher-Ups:

The Technical Team has noted serious technical difficulties with Blog entitled “Vapor and Flow,” with no forward (or backward) movement observed since mid-January. Blog is currently parked in the Driver’s front yard, where it seems to be accumulating trash. Driver has not yet had it put up on blocks, but Technical Team is on alert.

Team suspects a problem with the fuel injection system, though without hands-on investigation it is impossible to tell whether the gasoline tank might simply be empty. Team had noted some juddering of the steering wheel, accompanied by slightly erratic driving, in December and early January, indicating the need for immediate tire rotation and rebalancing. In addition, tires should be checked for wear. Driver has done none of this.

Driver herself, rather than repairing the Blog or addressing various ethical quandaries in her life at the moment, has become obsessed with the dog urine stains in her carpeting and the possibility of replacing the carpeting with something that can simply be hosed down. She daily repeats a monologue that always begins the same way (“I can’t stand this! What am I going to DO?”) and ends the same way (“But how would they move the piano?”). Technical Team estimates that said piano, a tall, ancient upright, weighs slightly more than a Volkswagen Beetle, flower holder included. Unlike a Beetle, the piano would probably not float, although Team finds this an intriguing question and would very much like to be notified of the results of any experiments along these lines. LOL.

Excuse us, that was unprofessional on our part. To continue, Driver also appears obsessed with a new personal best in Scrabble: her highest-ever non-bingo word score (GAZEBO, 84 points). While interesting numerically, this is judged by Team to be a rather trivial achievement in the grand scheme of things and recommends that Driver should just Get Over It.

Excuse us, please ignore editorial comment. Finally, Technical Team notes that on multiple occasions recently Driver has stated that she “dodged a bullet” because the voice student portion of a recent music recital was cancelled. This comment has been flagged for further analysis, but Team can only assume that someone slated to attend said recital was prepared to use firearms in the event of Driver singing. Team has insufficient information to gauge (pun! LOL) the appropriateness of the posited firearm use.

Excuse us again; Technical Team is fatigued and too easily amused. Team judges that Driver is currently earning A’s in Reading and Scrabble (quantity only), D’s in Physical Therapy and Caregiving, and F’s in Voice Lessons (lack of practice), Problem Resolution (dithering), Diet Remediation (inaction), Photography (inaction), and Blog Repair (inaction and negligence). Given this poor functioning, Driver’s hair looks better than might be expected, although Team is not well trained in assessing such matters.

In conclusion, Technical Team advises continued close monitoring of Blog and Driver, with future updates as necessary.

—Submitted February 23, 2014, ungodly hour of the morning
(Technical Team wishes to note that it has worked overtime on this report and would like to be duly compensated. Thank you.)

It takes a village ~

I don’t know about raising children, since I haven’t had any. My family was so insular, I don’t think I had a village growing up, unless you count my teachers and my pediatrician.

But I do know this: It takes a village to sustain a late-middle-aged, debilitated, single homeowner who’s clueless about fixing things. My village comprises a great many support people, by whom I mean people that I pay to help me keep my life in order.

All of us lucky enough to live above the poverty line have some people, of course. We have doctors and dentists. Some of us have shrinks and even more of us have therapists. Most of us have car mechanics and hairdressers or barbers.

Oh, for the simple life. The other day someone knocked on the door. It turned out to be My Realtor, bearing a beautiful large poinsettia. She sold my last house and helped me buy this one. Neither transaction was big enough to warrant the poinsettia, but I’m guessing realtors in this town are having a tough time as university enrollment keeps going down. I’d long ago decided that if I ever sell this house I plan to use her again. So, astonishingly, I have a realtor.

I also have a housekeeper. Probably hundreds of people around here have housekeepers, but most of them work or are over 70. I’m just weak. So when I have to refer to this person in conversation, you’d think I had a chicken bone stuck in my throat. How it comes up in conversation when I find myself in so few conversational situations is a mystery, yet it does. Often I find myself referring to T. as “the woman who cleans my house for a couple of hours every other week,” which is an awfully long ride on the merry-go-round. Yet to call her My Housekeeper sounds so…possessive. So elitist. So needy.

That’s not all. There’s also My Lawn Guy (who doubles as My Gutter-Cleaning Guy), My Tree Guy, My Garage Door Guy, My Handyman, My Electrician, and My Piano Tuner. The last three would have no idea that I consider them in this vein, since it’s been two or three years since I called any of them. But I intend to use them again, so there you go. I recently acquired My Carpet Cleaner (a man, not a machine) and My Snow-Shoveling Duo (a young man and woman much friendlier than the tough-looking guys in scruffy pickups who usually drive in from the country to shovel driveways after a snowfall).

Then there’s My Roofer. He has probably repressed the memory of me and my last house, which developed a series of bizarre leakage and mold problems that required patches, eventual re-roofing, a ridge vent, and a specially designed series of vents around the chimney. (I will write about this house someday when I’m sure I can hang on to my emotional equilibrium. I’ve referred to it elsewhere in this blog as the house that hated me.)

When I was working, I had My Massage Therapist (who was also my friend and a former co-worker). For well over a decade he kept me able to work despite painful tendinitis in my wrists and elbows. Eventually he talked me into acquiring My Rolfer, who also helped a great deal. But My Massage Therapist abandoned me to head the local community college’s massage therapy program, and after I quit work I could no longer afford My Rolfer. For three weeks last year I had My Personal Trainer, until I realized that he was going to kill me. Not on purpose, but still. It turned out that I was already too debilitated for My Personal Trainer’s lowest level of assistance. So far I’ve avoided needing My Caregiver, but I figure that’s next unless I can be my own personal trainer.

I have no need for an accountant, but I like My Lawyer, although I don’t like her law firm’s fees very much. Soon I may gain My Financial Consultant, whom I hope I won’t have to consult very often. Once would be enough, really. I can’t see the fabled one percent through a telescope from where I sit, but because I had to retire early and because my sister is disabled, I need to be fiscally prudent.

I even have people for after I die: My Funeral Home. Last summer I was getting things in order so that my death would cause my sister as little burden as possible. I’ve been terrified of death since I was a little girl, so when I decided to move on this, I did it fast. Within the space of an hour, I realized that I needed a “pre-needs” contract, called the funeral home, found that I could meet with them immediately to set up a contract, did just that, and returned. It may have been the fastest pre-needs transaction in the funeral director’s experience.

It was one of those days when I’m always on the verge of tears, and on such days I usually behave strangely. More strangely than usual, that is. I kept stressing that I needed a contract immediately. The assistant, a skinny, prematurely wrinkled woman with jet-black hair and several layers of makeup (practice?), summoned the funeral director, to whom I again stressed the urgency of the situation. They seemed surprised that someone so young wanted a contract. I knew I just wanted (pardon the language) a bare-bones agreement, no service, no urn. A fast reader, I blazed through the cremation contract, had them make a couple of changes, thrust a check at them, gave them my prewritten obit, and made sure my sister wouldn’t have to do anything.

As the assistant guided me through the labyrinth of rooms to the front door, the tears started in earnest. She asked if I was all right. For some reason I cannot train myself to simply answer this question with “Yes” or “I’m fine.” I seem to have a sort of hyper-honesty genetic mutation that results in some unfortunate, peculiar, or embarrassing answers. “I’m not well,” I said stiffly, and made a break for my car, undoubtedly leaving the woman convinced that I had a terminal illness and that they’d be firing up the furnace any day.

So I’m pretty well covered. I feel bad that I’m so incompetent and that my village is so big. On the other hand, it is pleasingly amiable and few of its members get called upon very often. I comfort myself with the thought that there’s an entire ritzy support tier that I’ll never have to have, nor could I afford. I don’t have a gardener (or a garden), a pool guy (or a pool), or a horse boarder (or a horse). I don’t have a chauffeur, an interior decorator, a party planner, a social secretary, or a chef (I need one). Although my friends may regret it when they see how I’m dressed, I don’t have, god forbid, a personal shopper.

And I don’t have, I’m happy to say, a ghostwriter. For better or worse, where this blog is concerned it’s just me on the loose taking a walk outside my village.

Bursting bubbles ~

It does seem to be true, at least in my case, that pride goeth before a fall, although one could predict that due to probability alone. For the past two days I’ve been congratulating myself on learning a new skill: giving subcutaneous injections. Last Friday a nurse came to my sister’s house to give her the first of five injections of an insanely expensive drug that may reduce inflammation, thereby increasing her mobility. (Heartfelt thanks to the Chronic Disease Fund, which paid the $2,000 for 5 milliliters of this medication.)

The remaining four injections would be my responsibility to do, so the nurse walked me through all the steps, which were more numerous than I’d anticipated. Warm the refrigerated vial between your palms for three minutes. Disinfect the rubber top of the vial with an alcohol wipe. Attach an 18-gauge needle to the syringe. (The smaller the number, the bigger the needle, I learned—just like camera apertures.)

Draw back the plunger to the 1 milliliter mark to fill the syringe with air. Twist the protective cap off of the needle. Push the syringe into the vial. Push the plunger to force out the air. Upend the vial and, making sure the tip of the needle is submerged within the liquid, draw back the plunger to the 1 mL mark. (Yes, this is a long and boring explanation, but it’s necessary to the point of the post. Pun intended.)

Then comes the tough part: checking for bubbles. Tiny bubbles are okay, but anything bigger should be dealt with by flicking your finger against the syringe repeatedly until the bubble slides toward the business end of the syringe. Push the plunger a bit to ease the bubble up through the needle. Draw the plunger back down to 1mL and repeat. This process turned out to be both tricky and tedious: there is an area at the end of the syringe where there’s some plastic threading, and it always looks empty, as if there’s a bubble there. Often, though, it’s just an optical illusion.

When you’re satisfied that no substantial bubbles remain, remove the needle from the vial. Put the protective cap back on the needle and twist it off the syringe. Replace it with a smaller gauge needle and take off its protective cap. (These seem to resist removal.) Make sure a tiny droplet of medicine shows at the end of the needle, supposedly indicating there’s no air in the syringe.

Then swab your victim’s thigh (in this case) with an alcohol wipe, pinch a goodly bit of her flesh between thumb and forefinger, and make the stick. The needle should go almost all the way in, but not quite. Turn loose of her flesh and pull the plunger back slightly to make sure no blood enters the syringe, which would indicate that you’ve hit a vein. If everything looks good, inject the liquid, remove the syringe, and slap on a bit of gauze.

Simple, right? The nurse allowed me to do everything except the one thing she could not, because of some financial rule or other, allow me to do: make the stick. Naturally, this was the part of the procedure that scared me the most. As I poised the needle above C.’s thigh on Saturday, I hoped fervently that I would not spear her and produce a bloody mess. I steeled myself to hear howling, and I made the stick. No sound from C. The needle might have gone all the way in, which was wrong, but it turned out beautifully.

I injected the medication, pulled out the needle, and marveled that at first I couldn’t even see where the injection had been. A dot of blood much smaller than a pinhead soon showed itself. No bigger than the nurse’s had been! I did an abbreviated victory dance while C. pressed gauze on the spot, and then a completely unnecessary Band-aid went on. Woohoo!

Things went equally well on Sunday—except that I remembered just after I gave C. the injection that I’d forgotten to pull back the plunger to check for blood. But chance saved me: there was again just a teensy dot showing where the needle had gone in. I was pretty good at this, hey? I could be a sub-Q shot giver, were there such a job. What competence!

Then today rolled around. I drew the medication into the syringe and there appeared to be no major bubbles. This seemed suspiciously lucky, so I flicked my finger against the syringe a few times and tried to determine if a bubble was lurking at the hard-to-see end. After some fiddling around with the plunger, I finally decided that there wasn’t. I switched needles. In the process of struggling to remove the thinner needle’s protective cap, however, I realized that I didn’t have 1mL in the syringe. I had closer to 0.9 mL. The nurse had specifically told me this was NOT okay.

Crap! What to do? With considerable misgivings I decided to switch the needles again and draw more medicine out of the vial. I was pretty sure the nurse would have told me not to do this, but I couldn’t think of an alternative. I also didn’t see how anything would be contaminated, since the first needle had gone back into its protective cap. After making certain I had 1mL, I checked for bubbles again. Flicked again. Switched the needles again and ascertained that a droplet of medicine clung to the tip.

I remembered this time, after making the stick, to check for blood. There wasn’t any. To my consternation, however, when I drew the plunger back slightly, a large, sinister-looking bubble appeared at the needle end and slowly made its way up the syringe.


I had quizzed the nurse extensively about this entire bubble subject, because it worried me so much. “What if I miss a big bubble and inject it into her?” I asked. “Am I going to kill her?”

Undoubtedly the nurse was laughing on the inside, but she kept a straight face. “No,” she said, “but the shot will be more painful. It’s if you have an air bubble inside a vein. Now that’ll get you.”

Frozen in place with the needle in C.’s thigh, I reasoned that since there had been no blood, I could not have hit a vein. I warned C. that this shot might hurt—the others hadn’t—and I pushed down on the plunger. There was a bigger spot of blood this time when I removed the needle, but no spurting—in fact, no Carrie-type scene of any kind. C. hadn’t made a sound.

“Did that hurt?” I asked her anxiously.

“Not really,” she said.

“I don’t think I killed you,” I said with relief.

“Oh well,” she replied. I almost expected her to add, “Nobody’s perfect.”

One more injection to go. Then I should be done with wielding needles for awhile. Maybe forever, if I’m lucky. And if anybody asks me about the experience, I’ll say modestly, “I did reasonably well. We both lived.”

Addendum: After the final injection, I had to revise this post because I still had a step wrong. Perhaps this is why I never taught Technical Writing.